Of great batsmen and their unforgettable bat labels: a romance to remember

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What do Sachin Tendulkar's straight drive, Virat Kohli's swat-flick, AB de Villiers' inside-out cover drive, Brian Lara's swivelled pull and Steve Waugh's slog sweep have in common? Besides being signature strokes of the great batsmen, they have all been played at one time or the other with a bat bearing the MRF label. Indeed, bat labels are among the first things that come to mind when cricket fans think of their favourite batsmen.

When we remember Rahul Dravid, for example, three bat labels immediately pop up from our memory. First is the white Wills lettering on a red background, part of the bat that took him to his first Test hundred in Johannesburg and his first ODI hundred in Chennai. Next, the Britannia label that was prominent during the prolific middle phase of his career, including during the famous Adelaide Test in 2003 and finally, the SG sticker with which he made three hundreds in England in 2011.

Moving from the two-lettered SG to GM - short for Gunn & Moore - which we most associate with Waugh. On the other side of the Ashes divide, GM is also the label that was on Joe Root's bat during the 2015 series, when he made two centuries and as many half-centuries.

The GM logo also featured on Ben Stokes' bat as he chased down a target of 359 in the company of Jack Leach in Headingley last year. There was a difference, however, between the GM stickers in Waugh, Root and Stokes' bats: in case of the former Australia skipper, the letters ran across the face, while for the two English batsmen, they ran downwards.

Still within the fold of the Ashes rivalry, we remember two more of our favourite bat labels. Mark Waugh, Alec Stewart, Mark Ramprakash all wielded Slazenger bats with the 'V' logo at some point in their respective careers. Ricky Ponting, on the other hand, had a readily recognisable Kookaburra label beside a dark green patch.

Earlier variants of the Kookaburra labels were also seen on the bats of World Cup-winning Sri Lankans Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga, among others. MS Dhoni, when he led India to a World Cup triumph in 2011, held a bat with the letters of the brand Reebok written one below the other on the face of it. Reebok's logo was also seen on the bat of another India captain Mohammad Azharuddin, most notably during the 1997 Sahara Cup.

While batsmen remind one of bat labels, bat labels can also remind one of batsmen. The letters BDM, for example, immediately bring to mind Navjot Sidhu, whose towering sixes deflated the visiting Australian spinners in the 1998 Test series. Younis Khan also used a BDM bat when he belted a match-winning 267 in the Bengaluru Test in 2005. As for the label SS - with TON inscribed below - it takes us back to Vinod Kambli's brief Test career, in which he scored four Test hundreds, including consecutive double-hundreds. The label may also be associated with brighter sights still, including the off-side strokeplay of Sourav Ganguly, who used SS bats for a while, and VVS Laxman's historic 281 at Eden Gardens in 2001.

How about the sticker KG? For us, it will always bring back the image of Hrishikesh Kanitkar, slog-sweeping Saqlain Mushtaq in the darkness of Dhaka to take India to then world-record chase, in the Independence Cup final in 1998. And what about the scrawl-like RX? It is part of cricketing history, having been emblazoned on the bat with which Jason Gillespie made the highest score by a nightwatchman - a double-hundred against Bangladesh in Chittagong in 2006.

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The 201* bat

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Sometimes, a bat label may also be accompanied by echoes of an entire nation or a region's batting. Generations of Australian batsmen have, for instance, bullied all-comers into submission wielding their Pumas and Gray-Nicolls. Unlike his Trans-Tasman neighbours, Kane Williamson may kill bowling attacks softly, but he also does so with a Gray-Nicolls, the red ribbon-like band whose logo is one of the most recognisable things on a cricket field.

Among Pakistan batsmen, all of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman have presented straight CA bats to incoming deliveries. Among the other high-profile cricketers who have used bats manufactured by CA - a company based in Pakistan - are retired Sri Lankan batsmen Tillakaratne Dilshan and Marvan Atapattu, and the current holder of the ODI World Cup, England's captain Eoin Morgan.

Finally, we come to New Balance, a bat label with which a number of England cricketers, including Jason Roy, Joe Root and Ben Stokes, have been associated over the years. The label lives up to its true meaning, however, in case of the marvellous Steven Smith, who is well on his way to becoming the second-greatest Test batsmen of all time.

Siddhartha R is an Assistant Professor of English at Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. Srinivas S is an English teacher at the Rishi Valley School

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